hard rock

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Big Ones (1994)

AEROSMITH – Big Ones (1994 Geffen)

There is an informal rule that a band should have at least three albums out before they entertain the idea of a live or “greatest hits” release.  Aerosmith obviously had lots of albums out in 1994, but on two different labels:  Columbia, and Geffen.  Their 1994 best of, not-so-cleverly titled Big Ones, drew from only three Geffen albums.  Therein lies its weakness, though Aerosmith have often had issues trying to balance their classic and pop hit eras on compilations.  Big Ones is easily made redundant by later compilations, but how is it for a straight listen?

A long one:  73 minutes with lots of hits and perhaps a few too many ballads, although there is no denying their chart power.

Three songs were new to the majority of buyers.  “Deuces Are Wild” was a fine ballad, one of their best from this era.  It wasn’t entirely new; it was written for Pump and considered for Get A Grip before being released in 1993 on the Beavis and Butt-head Experience CD.  The other two were brand new recordings:  “Walk on Water” and “Blind Man”.  Fans who dug the heavy Aerosmith on tunes like “Eat the Rich” will enjoy “Walk on Water” as one of their harder rockers.  OK song, but long forgotten now.  Unfortunately “Blind Man” is just another ballad, this one similar to “What It Takes” from Pump.  It’s the better of the two new songs, but sadly another ballad is not what Big Ones needed.

Making this CD even less valuable to buyers, every single track is on the later album Young List: The Aerosmith Anthology (2001).   Even the three new songs!

Otherwise Big Ones plays much like a run-though of Aerosmith’s radio staples that you can hear on the FM dial just about everywhere.  Each and every big hit from the three massive Geffen albums is here.  How often do you need to hear “Crazy”, “Cryin'”, “Amazing”, “Janie”, “Rag Doll”, “Angel”, “Dude”, “Elevator” and the rest?  That is up to you.

Even the cover art is devoid of imagination.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Sammy Hagar – “Give to Live” (12″ single)

SAMMY HAGAR – “Give to Live” (1987 Geffen 12″ single)

Sammy Hagar released his solo album I Never Said Goodbye in 1987, right when he was still in Van Halen.  It was co-produced by Sammy and Eddier himself.  It was a mixed bag, with some killer tunes and a few things that were far too wimpy.  A couple singles were released, and “Give to Live” was the best.  As a power ballad, it probably could have suited any of the Van Hagar albums except For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.  That’s Eddie on bass, by the way, and listen to how great he is.  No surprise, right?  When you’re as great at music as Eddie Van Halen is, it must be hard for other musicians to cut it in his eyes.  (Cough cough Michael Anthony cough.)

Also on the A-side is album opener “When the Hammer Falls”, an OK rock track.  As discussed in the album review for I Never Said Goodbye, “When the Hammer Falls” has a good riff but not much of a chorus.  That’s too bad since it was one of the hardest rockers on the LP.  (And just listen to Eddie’s bass…again!)  you can’t hit a homerun every time, though there’s nothing here to be embarrassed of.

If you buy the single, there’s no point unless you get the 12″ with the non-album bonus track.  On the B-side you will find the full-length version of “Standin’ at the Same Old Crossroads”, which was only 1:46 on album.  It served as an introduction to the song “Privacy”, but on this single it’s unedited.  This is a real treat for fans of Sammy’s underappreciated guitar playing.  The song is just Sammy and an electric slide guitar, bluesing it up.  The intro is longer and there’s a lot more playing than the album version.  Stuff like this is the reason to have B-sides and buy singles in the first place.

3.5/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Killers (1982 import)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 21:  

  Killers (1982 Casablanca, German and Japanese versions)

No matter how you feel about Kiss’s concept album Music From the Elder, it was a commercial dud.  It was Kiss’ first serious flop as a band since hitting the big time in 1975 with Kiss Alive!  More significantly, it was part of a trend:  Kiss chaos.  Since the solo albums, Kiss were fragmented.  The band weren’t playing on all the songs anymore, and members were leaving.  They had strayed from their music roots and become a comic book novelty act.  The Elder was not so much an album that people didn’t “get”, but one they didn’t care to “get”.  Fans were moving on.

The European record label, Phonogram, was in damage control mode.  They drew up plans to issue an album consisting of new and old songs; a compilation to put some money back in the coffers.  They weren’t mucking around.  They wanted a batch of new rock songs, but Kiss had effectively become a trio.  Ace Frehley hadn’t left the band officially, but he was no longer involved creatively.  Filling the guitar slot again was Bob Kulick.  As he did on Kiss Alive II, Bob played lead guitar on the new songs.  A 1988 book called Kiss: Still on Fire also named Ratt’s Robbin Crosby as a guitar player on the new songs, though this is a claim not backed up in any other source.  Paul provided the new songs, written with old and new friends:  Mikel Japp, Adam Mitchell, and some Canadian guy named Bryan something.  Bryan Adams?  Cuts like a knife indeed!  Adams co-wrote the lethal “Down On Your Knees”, and it wouldn’t be his last songwriting credit with Kiss either.

The best new tune in the batch was called “Nowhere to Run”, and it was one of the rockers that Kiss were working on before they decided to do The Elder instead. The sheer quality of this Stanley-penned underdog really supports the theory that doing The Elder was a mistake.  “Nowhere to Run” was classic Stanley, as good as anything on his solo album and exactly the kind of song that Kiss should have been doing.  In an alternate universe where The Elder never came out, what could have happened to Kiss?  Unfortunately the new compilation called Kiss Killers was never released in North America.   “Nowhere to Run” could do very little to change Kiss’ fortunes without being released in their native country.

The second-finest of the new songs is a little ditty called “I’m a Legend Tonight”.  Paul has somewhat disowned these songs since, but it is really hard to understand why.  This is a hard hitting Paul rocker, as only Paul can do.  It’s all innuendo and hot guitar licks.  The riff is simple and hooky, while Kulick plays for all he’s worth.  No longer was Bob being told to “play like Ace”.  His signature scorch really makes these new songs sound like a continuation of the Paul Stanley solo album.  Then there is “Down on Your Knees”, the one with Bryan Adams’ fingerprints on it.  It’s hard to tell, although it’s not outside the Adams ballpark.  It’s a sleazy rocker, spare and sounding great.  The new tracks were produced by Michael James Jackson, who finally captured Eric Carr’s drums properly.  Bob Ezrin buried them under mud on The Elder.  Kiss Killers sounds more like the real Eric Carr debut album.  The last of the new songs, “Partners in Crime”, is the weakest of the four.  Paul takes it down to a slow sexy grind, but “Partners in Crime” lacks the charisma of the other three.

As far as the new songs could be considered a “comeback”, it’s close but no cigar.  There’s no discernable Demon.  Where is Gene Simmons?  The lack of any audible Simmons vocals makes you question whether he even played bass on the new songs.  Regardless, Kiss is about a balance between Gene and Paul, and Killers represents the first heavy skew towards Paul.

 

The hits on the record make for great listening.  Most of the key bases are covered:  “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “Love Gun”, “God of Thunder” and even “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”.  There are no Peter Criss songs, and the only Frehley is “Cold Gin”, which Gene sings.  The only ballad is “Sure Know Something”, a minor hit in Germany where this album was issued.  In a cool touch, the record closes with the “live” (quotation marks!) version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” that made them superstars.  It is the more well known, and arguably superior version.  (Some of the other tracks are edits or single versions.*)

Kiss’ very first Japanese bonus tracks were on Killers.  The Japanese version is an even better listen.  They put a bonus track in the second-to-last position on each side:  “Shandi” (massive hit in Australia) and “Escape From the Island” (previously unreleased in Japan — it wasn’t included on their version of The Elder).  “Shandi” is just a great fucking song, and “Escape From the Island” is a cool inclusion because of a) its obscurity, and b) its total Ace Frehley shreddery.  It is interesting to note, that only Japan had tracks from the two most recent Kiss albums, Unmasked and Music From the Elder.  The rest of the world did not.  Were Kiss already trying to bury those records?

Periodically, the new songs on Kiss Killers have reappeared on single B-sides, compilations and box sets.  The best way to get them is just to pick up a copy of Killers.  Choose your format, sit back and rock!

Today’s rating:

4/5 stars

* “Shout it Out Loud” is a single version with a different mix on the lead vocals and an early fade.  “Detroit Rock City” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” are edited versions.

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/27

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Music From the Elder (1981)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 20:  

  Music From the Elder (1981 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster, 2014 Universal vinyl)

Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked.  The band’s stature was in jeopardy.  The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection.  As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr.  His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss.  The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots.  Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.

Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album.  Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction.  That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley.  Eric Carr had no say, being an employee.  Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album.  If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie.  And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?

The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley.  It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.

So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album.  Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch.  Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent.  Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin.  Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done.  There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell.  Hence the title, Music From the Elder.  Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.

A word about the running order.  When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense.  It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”.  Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier:  “The Oath”.  But the concept never made any sense.  In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order.  They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks.  The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”).  The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release.  (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.)  The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.

The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”.  “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas?  If hope is lost then so are we.  While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.”  The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”.  He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder.  “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes.  He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.

Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm.  It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band.  Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album.  The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all.  “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition.  It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals.  It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics.  Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not:  a lyric sheet.  With that in hand, you can follow the story.

In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album.  Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine.  It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.

Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album.  “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss.  It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it.  Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album.  “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment.  This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two.  Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun.  It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.

The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album.  It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works.  It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme.  Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny:  “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you?  And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?”  The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.”  In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.

According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction.  In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar.  “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons.  “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus.  But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt.  Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines.  Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig.  Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”.  In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil.  Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo.  Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.

Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”.  Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.”  These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song.  Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss.  Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs.  Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.

At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero.  This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”.  This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot.  You can still understand why they did this.  Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed.  Paul sings in falsetto again:  “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.”  The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays.  Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos.  If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.

So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.

At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.

The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.

A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”

There are two ways to listen to The Elder.  If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl.  If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release.  But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.

Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness.  It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves.  What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place.  Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home.  Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour.  The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted.  The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!

A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley.  Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998.  It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.

If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently.  We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records.  Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many.  When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be:  Some bands should not make concept albums.  Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess.  I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album.  Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record.  It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:

“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song.  I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song.  Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss.  More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record.  Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.

“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again.  Solid song.  Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel. 

“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track.  I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.

“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice.  Right producer, wrong band.   (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)

“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me.  Gregorian Monks?  Bah….

“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now.  Could have used more Lou Reed.

“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track.  Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me.  One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it.  Unmasked this album is not.

“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker.  Great drumming.  This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live.   LeBrain?  [Nope]

“Odyssey” – WTF?  Was this Paul’s tryout demo  for Phantom of the Opera?  This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.

Favorite Tracks”  “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”

Forgettable Tracks:  Take your pick….


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/26

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Best of Solo Albums (1979) #0wordchallenge

Brief explanation:  After the #200wordchallenge, I was inspired to come up with an even more daunting task.   Could I do a review in 0 words — without using any words at all?  I invite you to the #0wordchallenge!  Mine is below, but use your imagination and come up with something uniquely you!  This review is a part of…


The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 19:  

  Best of Solo Albums (1979 Phonogram)


Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/09/03

REVIEW: Duff McKagan’s Loaded – The Taking (2011)

Bought somewhere in Taranna in a forgotten sale bin.

DUFF McKAGAN’S LOADED – The Taking (2011 Armoury)

Duff McKagan is one of those guys who is always doing something.  He is not predictable except to be always active, usually in the context of a band.  Loaded is one such band, featuring three of Duff’s Seattle buds.  This is their third LP, a tight and focused affair with short and heavy songs.  Duff’s sloppy punk roots come forth, crossed with a healthy slab of heavy-as-fuck riffin’.  Duff’s shout-singing has never been more apropos, and there are even a few moments of guitar solo nirvana.

The music is all well and good; nothing in particular will rival Guns N’ Roses or even Velvet Revolver, but some tunes are pretty cool.  “We Win” has a simple anthemic quality, Leppard-like, that endears it well in the memory.  Better still is “Dead Skin”, a scorching punk rocker that would have set well with another of Duff’s bands, Neurotic Outsiders.  “Lords of Abaddon” and “Follow Me to Hell” which open and close the CD are fierce numbers that could cause speaker damage if cranked loud enough.

You really can’t throw enough praise at Duff McKagan, but The Taking is not one of his must-have efforts.  Save for a look in the cheapie bin.

2.5/5 stars

This was a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge.

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Unmasked (1980)

bThe KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 18:  It’s a KISS three-fer!  LeBrain and Uncle Meat discuss KISS Unmasked below.  Meanwhile Deke at Stick it in Your Ear has an accompanying piece called Peter Criss:  Tossed and Turning!

  Unmasked (1980 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster)

“I think Unmasked is a pretty crappy album.  It’s wimpy” – Paul Stanley, KISS Behind the Mask

Here we are at Unmasked, the very album that inspired the Kiss Re-Review series in the first place.  It’s a polarizing platter.  The band often trash it and shun it in concert.  Meanwhile, some fans have grown to appreciate it, particularly in Europe and Australia.  There is even a tribute CD on a German label with covers of the entire album.  Indeed, Unmasked is not without strengths.  Ace Frehley contributed another three songs of his own, continuing the growth he demonstrated on his solo album and Dynasty.

On the other side of the ledger, there were factors that fans see as a diluting of the Kiss sound.  Co-writers were now the norm.  Returning producer Vini Poncia had eight co-writes.  They used a track by songwriter Gerard McMahon.  Even ghost guitarist Bob Kulick had a co-write on Gene’s “Naked City”.  Most importantly, but publicly unknown at the time, was that Kiss had effectively become a trio.  Peter Criss’ substance issues had come to a head and he was not involved with the album at all.  He was on the cover, and in the credits, but all Peter did was mime some drums for the “Shandi” music video.  When that shoot was done, Peter was gone.  Anton Fig (Dynasty, Ace Frehley) returned again to fill the gap behind the scenes.

The album demonstrated a slick turn towards pop rock.  Not disco so much, although the compression on the drums and guitars gives it a disco sound.  The keyboards and slick production sweetened the album to the point that the thunder of Alive! or Love Gun was completely absent.  Kiss were becoming caricatures in pursuit of megahits.

The Gerard McMahon song “Is That You?” was selected to open Unmasked.  This sexy grind is one of the best tracks, with Paul in peak voice showing off what he can do.  The slow and dirty pop rock number gets the job done, with minimal loss of integrity.  That’s Paul on lead guitar too, one of several songs on which he solos, though it is hard to tell.  In fact Unmasked is one of those Kiss albums on which you can’t be sure who played what.

Only one Kiss member appears on the big single, “Shandi”, and that’s Paul Stanley.  On bass was Tom Harper, and Holly Knight on keyboards.  There is little doubt that “Shandi” is a fantastic song, and it worked particularly well live in the acoustic setting.  While Unmasked blurred the lines between rock and pop, “Shandi” is pure pop joy — almost adult contemporary!

Frehley’s first track was a favourite called “Talk to Me”, a song many Kiss fans easily embraced.  These first three songs were performed on the Unmasked tour, which demonstrates their worth.  “Talk to Me” has a cool guitar riff and one of Ace’s most infectious choruses – an instant classic.  Ace had really grown as a singer by this point.

The waters get murkier after the first three tracks.  Gene’s “Naked City” is a grower.  It possesses hooks and great verses, but the main guitar riff doesn’t hit the spot.  Gene’s falsetto voice is employed to great effect.  It takes a few spins, but “Naked City” has a cool darkness to it and a strange kind of class.  That is followed by the very pop “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, a keyboard-heavy Paul Stanley tune.  It sounds very little like Kiss, but Paul’s performance (guitar solo included) is stellar.  Falsetto must have been very popular at the time.  Bee Gees, anyone?

Paul’s side two opener “Tomorrow” is just as pop as “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”.  These would be great songs for somebody else’s album.  Perhaps Rick Astley.  Fortunately the side is quickly redeemed by Ace’s excellent “Two Sides of the Coin”.  Notably, this song inspired the title of Michael Brandvold’s Kiss podcast, “Three Sides of the Coin“.  Ace’s track is a fan favourite, upbeat and melodic with just enough guitar bite.  If the production was meatier, as on Ace’s solo album, it would be an absolute killer.

Gene continues chasing the ladies on “She’s So European”, a filler track with familiar themes.  “She makes love on a brass bed, because her parents are still awake.”  Not Gene’s finest moment.  “Easy As It Seems” is a Paul track, and also not one of his finest, but the bouncy bass (by Paul) is quite great.  But is that a bloody keyboard solo that I detect?

One of the most interesting tracks, and most instrumentally impressive, is Ace’s surf rock classic “Torpedo Girl”.  This is just a fun summertime track with infectious ooh-ahh vocal hooks.  His role within Kiss resulted in some of their more unique songs, and “Torpedo Girl” is unorthodox.  Ace’s picking is enviable, and the lyrics are just pure fun.  “Come on, get your feet wet.”

Album closer “You’re All That I Want” is one of Gene’s tunes, but Paul’s vocals on the outro sell it.  It’s a little on the light side, as is much of Unmasked, but it remains a good song.

On a personal note, I have one very strong memory of Unmasked.  I first heard it by taping it off a friend, my late neighbor George.  George dropped the needle on the record, hit record on my tape, and then got out his bass and played bass along to every song.  Unbeknownst to him, his bass playing bled onto the tape.  From that point until I finally got a store-bought cassette copy, I always heard George’s bass on the fade-outs of every song.  I can still hear it in my head.  I suppose that’s one way that George is still alive, in my memory.

Unmasked was released on May 20, 1980, with a bright cartoony cover including Peter Criss.  Meanwhile the band were already preparing for their first of many lineup changes, something that was kept quiet until the right moment.

In July, Kiss were ready to unveil the new member.  Paul Caravello, from Brooklyn, impressed Kiss with his audition and humble personality.  The story that everybody remembers is that Caravello asked the guys for their autographs in case he never saw them again.  No worries there; the job was destined to be his.  But Kiss couldn’t have another guy named Paul, and his last name was too “ethnic” (obviously Italian), so his name was changed to Eric Carr.  (Fortunately, Gene’s suggestion of “Rusty Blades” was discarded.)  The newly dubbed Eric was an energetic mighty-mite of rock, and the band quickly grew to love him.  Everything was new to him.

“The Hawk”

A new makeup design was required.  This was a big deal — a new challenge.  A hawk concept was tried, but in the costume Carr looked more like Big Bird than a rock star.  He drew up an inspired fox design which immediately clicked.  The new character was born!

Carr’s first appearance with the band was at their only US date on this tour: New York on July 25 1980.  The rest of the tour took place in Europe and Australia where “Shandi” became a hit.  There were only 41 shows in total.  Despite their best efforts, Kiss’ fortunes were shifting.  Opening acts on the tour included Iron Maiden, which must have been quite the mismatch.  Given Maiden’s reputation for blowing away headliners (much like Kiss when they started out), you must wonder how this went down.  Girl, featuring future Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and future L.A. Guns singer Phil Lewis, also opened a handful of gigs.

Unfortunately for fans, especially in North America, this was the last tour for a long time.  It was also the only tour featuring this lineup.  While Kiss had endured their first lineup change, that was only just the beginning of the problems to solve.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Unmasked was released in May of 1980. A couple of months later I had heard that Kiss was going to introduce their new drummer on a show called Kids Are People Too. Seeing Kiss in the Phantom movie on TV was one thing. But knowing they were being interviewed, and introducing their newest member…Eric “The Fox” Carr. I watch it today on YouTube, and it’s so…umm…not what I remember. But it was monumental at the time for me. At this point, I had heard Unmasked once at a friend’s place and was underwhelmed. But I loved the album cover and still think it is probably their best. My take on Unmasked is much different now, and was how LeBrain’s Re-Reviews started in the first place. First of all I will address this. Mike referred in the beginning of this series to the two “Disco” era Kiss albums of Dynasty and Unmasked. Dynasty has one Disco song. Unmasked does not have anything close to a Disco song. Some would say “Shandi”, but that is Kiss capitalizing on the Soft Rock success of the day. Unmasked may not be a typical Kiss album, but thanks to Vini Poncia it’s a great album of Rock tunes and one of my favorite Kiss albums.

The drumming on this album is a major high point. Anton Fig shines all over this disc. Ace also continues his consistent roll with great rock songs like “Talk To Me”. He has such a great Rock and Roll voice. The background vocals are great too. “Two Sides of the Coin” is another song with incredible drumming, and a single writing credit. Both this song and “Talk To Me” are the only two songs on the album that don’t have an outside writing credit. Subsequently these songs sound more like classic Kiss than the rest of the album. However “Torpedo Girl” is another story. This might be the shining moment of Ace’s career in Meat’s opinion. Unbelievable guitar riff and funky drum beat. I have had it in my head for days now.

It seems that the addition of Vini Poncia to the Kiss machine inspired Gene Simmons as well. Unlike Dynasty where his songs were mostly forgettable, a couple of his songs on this album shine here. “She’s So European” is “completely ridiculous” but a “great fucking tune” (according to my longtime Kiss-mate Scott) . That about says it all. “Naked City” sees the falsetto of Gene Simmons on display here in another catchy song. There are great hooks within this song, which is indicative of the whole album really. However the album closer, “You’re All That I Want” might be the weakest track on the album. I do though love the ending, which you hear Stanley screaming in his typical live-show style.

Paul Stanley’s contributions on this album are good as well, with a few curveballs thrown in. “Shandi” was a massive Australian hit, and even though the song is about as limp as it can be, I still love the song. Reminds me of the Little River Band and Ambrosia songs of the Soft Rock era that I still dig. “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” is a solid song, with some of the greatest solo guitar playing Paul Stanley has put to record. “Tomorrow” sounds a lot like .38 Special to me and is just OK. “Easy As it Seems” is a solid song that incorporates keyboards in an interesting way, and might be the best Stanley song on Unmasked.

Overall Unmasked is a misunderstood, understated classic. I am curious to see if time has changed LeBrain’s take on this album. All I can say is…this may be Kiss’s last truly great album. From here on in, the “Meat’s Slice” section will start to get a lot shorter, with a couple exceptions.

Favorite Tracks: “Torpedo Girl”, “Shandi”, “Is That You”, “Talk To Me”, “She’s so European”

Forgettable Tracks: “You’re All That I Want”, “Tomorrow” (both borderline)


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/25

 

 

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – When We Rock, We Rock and When We Roll, We Roll (1978)

DEEP PURPLE – When We Rock, We Rock and When We Roll, We Roll (1978 Warner)

When Deep Purple broke up in 1976, their back catalog was ripe for exploitation for compilation by record labels.  One by one, out trickled Deepest Purple, Singles A’s and B’s, and When We Rock, We Rock and When We Roll, We Roll.  1978’s When We Rock is the least necessary of them all.

The only thing that When We Rock really has going for it is that did feature all the Deep Purple singers to date.  Ian Gillan sings the majority of tracks, Rod Evans has two (“Hush” and “Kentucky Woman”) and Coverdale/Hughes have one (“Burn”).  The shoddy package had no involvement from any ex-members of the band, and even has an incorrect track listing on the back.  “Woman From Tokyo” isn’t live, but “Smoke on the Water” is (from Made in Japan).

If music shoppers in 1978 were just looking for a handy-dandy single record set of all Purple’s radio hits, then When We Rock almost fits the bill.  “Hard Road (Wring That Neck)” is conspicuous by its inclusion, being a semi-obscure instrumental from 1969’s The Book of Taliesyn.  Swap that one out for “Strange King of Woman” and you could have had a serviceable hits set, even considering the live tracks.  After all, Made in Japan helped establish the live album as a viable hitmaker.

The only reason to own When We Rock, We Rock and When We Roll, We Roll is the cover art, which admittedly is pretty nifty.

1/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Live at the Marquee (1985 promo EP)

HELIX – Live at the Marquee (1985 Capitol promo exclusive EP)

Gratuity goes to two people:  Helix associate John Hockey who initially hooked me up with an mp3 rip of his copy of this Holy Grail rarity, and to Boppin for finding this original copy on vinyl!  Helix’s Live at the Marquee EP is one of those releases that lots of people have heard of, but few have heard.  First of all, it’s a promo, which means it was only distributed within the industry and never made available for sale to the public.  Promos can be very desirable collectibles, especially when they contain exclusive music.  Live at the Marquee was nothing but!  In 1985, Helix had released nothing in terms of live product, not even a live single B-side.  Live at the Marquee was the only one, and before the internet, few fans even knew about it.

For full disclosure, there is a rare Rock Candy reissue of 1984’s Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge, an unauthorized but valuable release that does contain three of the six Marquee tracks.  That 2009 release includes “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You”, and “Animal House” from this EP.  The other three songs have yet to be reissued anywhere, so half of Live at the Marquee is still exclusive to the EP.

What you need to know about Live at the Marquee is that this is Helix at their prime.  The classic lineup was in full swing:  Brian Vollmer (vocals), Brent “Doctor” Doerner & Paul Hackman (guitars), Greg “Fritz” Hinz (drums), and Daryl Gray (bass).  They were performing their most popular tracks from the Razor’s Edge and No Rest for the Wicked LPs.  Starting with “Young & Reckless” and “Rock You”, it’s full octane in the tank and pedal to the metal.  Helix were and are known as a loud band, and this EP sure sounds like it.  They take a step back on the hit ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  Helix could do love songs like that without sounding wimpy.

Side two continues with the single “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” (Crazy Elephant cover) which sounds like a blast.  Helix do not get recognition for the dual guitar alliance of Doerner and Hackman as perhaps they should.  Check out “Animal House” for more of their stellar interplay including a bit of slide.  Finally “Heavy Metal Love” closes the record, an enduring favourite today that sounds fantastic performed by the classic band.

Over the years, fans became widely aware of the existence of this release.  It would be listed and pictured among official discographies, but never found in stores.  Until/unless those final three recordings become available on CD, this record should be sought after by every serious Helix fan.  I’m happy to have a copy signed by Fritz Hinz.  Also awesome?  John Hockley hooked me up with a CD copy of the Rock Candy release of Razor’s Edge, signed by all four surviving members of the classic Helix band.  Thank you John, and rest in peace Paul Hackman.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: T.M. Stevens – Black Night: Deep Purple Tribute According to New York (1997)

Black Night:  Deep Purple Tribute According to New York (1997 DeRock)
Produced and arranged by T.M. Stevens

This is one of the coolest and most different Deep Purple tributes you are likely to find.  It’s also by far the funkiest.

Bassist T.M. Stevens (aka Shocka Zooloo) might be best known for his work with Joe Cocker, James Brown, Billy Joel and many others…but he first came to the attention of hard rockers via Steve Vai.  He was a member of Vai’s Sex & Religion band, and immediately stood out on CD and on stage.  Although his name doesn’t appear on the front cover for Black Night: Deep Purple Tribute According to New York, it’s clearly his project.  He produced it, arranged it, and is the only musician who appears on every track.  He has a pocket full of well known friends to fill out the instruments including:  Will Calhoun (Living Color, drums), Cory Glover (Living Color, vocals), Joe Lynn Turner (Deep Purple/Rainbow, vocals), Richie Kotzen (guitar, vocals), Al Pitrelli (Savatage, guitars), Vinnie Moore (UFO, guitars), Stevie Salas (guitars), Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic, keys), Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz, drums), and Tony Harnell (TNT, vocals).  What a team!

Black Night is not for everyone.  Each and every song is drastically changed.  “Black Night” itself is slowed down and turned into a metallic bluesy grind.  Dual lead guitars by Pitrelli and Moore ensure its metal credentials, and Joe Lynn Turner comes down with his raspy soul.  Another raspy soul singer, Richie Kotzen, handles “Strange Kind of Woman” on guitar and vocals.  This one turns the funk right up!  The rhythm section of Calhoun and Stevens generates a punchy funk that can’t be stopped.  A standout.  Living Color’s Cory Glover takes over on the even funkier “Fireball”.  The creative arrangement deconstructs the song.  “Fireball” was one of the few Purple songs to feature a bass solo, so Stevens takes the opportunity to slap some bass.  A Purple tribute without “Smoke on the Water” wouldn’t be a real Deep Purple tribute.  It’s a hard track to funk up, so it’s more of a steamroller with funky verses.  Kotzen turns in a hell of a soulful vocal, proving how versatile any music can be.  An original and refreshing slant on a tired classic.

The most interesting arrangement is by far “Child in Time”.  The epic soft/loud dynamic of Purple’s beloved classic has been replaced by reggae, and why not?  Bernie Worrell does his best with Jon Lord’s original outline to create his own organ parts.  T.M. and Tony Harnell share lead vocals: Tony singing the clean and high parts (with absolutely no difficulty!), while T.M. does his Rasta take on the rest.  Sacrilege?  Keep an open mind.

Keeping an open mind is the key for this entire album.  If you cannot do that, you will probably hate Deep Purple According to New York.  That title says it all.  This is Purple according to Stevens and friends, and they do their own thing.  The rest of the material — “Woman From Tokyo”, “Stormbringer”, “Speed King”, “Burn”, and “Space Truckin'” — are as different as the first five tunes.  “Woman From Tokyo” is funky soul vocal nirvana, featuring four lead singers (Kotzen, Stevens, Harnell and Turner)!

In case you’re wondering what the closing track “Deep Purple NY” is, it’s just a funky shout-out to all the players on the CD.  “New York is in the house, New Jersey, Bernie Worrell!”  That kind of thing.

I’ve heard a number of Deep Purple tribute albums over the years.  Yngwie did four Purple songs on his mediocre Inspiration album.  Thin Lizzy did a Purple tribute under the name Funky Junction.  There was the star-studded Re-Machined CD.  There was even a 1994 tribute album called Smoke on the Water that featured three of the same guys on this album!  (Joe Lynn Turner, Tony Harnell, Richie Kotzen, as well as another ex-Purple member, Glenn Hughes).  None of those albums, even with all that star power, are nearly as interesting as Black Night.  I chose that word “interesting” on purpose.  It’s a very neutral word.  Your reaction to this album could be wildly positive, violently negative, or simply passively unmoved.  The listening experience will be anything but dull.  Whether you like it or not, if you pick up this CD you’re going to hear some of the greatest rock and funk players on the planet, so get your dancing shoes on.

4/5 stars